Our Hunter-Gatherer Genetics Are Working Against Us!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011
My major in college was Social Anthropology and African Studies. I was always fascinated by the rituals surrounding the Hunter. Any time a big kill occurred, no matter whether it was an historical account or one occurring in modern times, there was a gorging on the meat harvested from the kill. There are also those times of year when there are the big harvests of food, provided by the Gatherer, which created a reason to celebrate and enjoy the bounty culminating in annual celebrations. Our bodies are built to gorge. Since we never knew when the next meal might come, we gorge on what was in front of us so our bodies could stock up and sustain themselves through the leaner times. Nothing went to waste.

Since we now live in a world of plenty (most of us in the developed world, that is) our capacity and genetics for gorging are now working against us. What comes naturally is now not what is healthy for us. We have to consciously and mindfully make choices and not let our instincts drive our decisions. As the O'Keefes state in their book The Forever Young Diet & Lifestyle, "As adults we are 'hard-wired' to move only when we have to, to rest when we can, and to eat as much as possible whenever food is available. Those instincts served us well in an untamed world where we had to save our energy in order to secure food, water, and shelter and withstand frequent periods of scarcity." Today those instincts doom us to "a sub-optimal life that includes obesity and illness". So, not only is it the super-sized world around us we have to keep at bay, but also our own genetics!

There is no free pass. The only way to combat the desire to "live for today" and to be a member of the "clean plate" team is to live an intentional and mindful life. There is actually a whole movement out there called "mindful eating". It seems like a drag to always have to be planning what we eat and being mindful about what we put in our mouths. Sometimes I am just not in the mood! But I have a thought I am wanting to test out. What if we were mindful the majority of the time but still allowed ourselves the occasional blow-out? Could we maintain our weight that way, not let go of the overall control of our lives and also satisfy our instincts? I am thinking this could be a good solution. The trick is to find balance and not get into the cycle of overindulgence.

I know I have not yet struck the perfect balance between living in the present and acknowledging my hunter-gatherer genetics. It is a challenge I am enjoying taking on, however. It appeals to me--acknowledging all of me. As I am watching Christmas ads on TV and it is only November 9, I am humbled by the task of not giving into a season of gorging but instead making it just one or two days- Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is going to take a lot of mindfulness!

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